A few months back, on being turned down by a programmer at Lincoln Center Film Society for a screening there, it was suggested I send Coming to Terms to the folks at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, whom it was hinted, would perhaps like the film and perhaps show in their summer festival. So I sent it along, and a week or so ago got this little note:
Thanks so much for submitting your film to BAMcinemaFest, and for your patience during our programming process. Unfortunately, we are unable to screen Coming to Terms in the 6th edition of our festival.
This year we received an astounding amount of excellent work, and as is the case every year, we do not have space to include all of the work we want to. I really liked the film, and for what it’s worth, this was one of the toughest decisions we had to make.
We are honored that you look to BAMcinemaFest as an appropriate venue for your work and encourage you to submit future projects to our festival.
So, having previously sent the film to the NYFF, and Toronto, and maybe I sent it to Tribeca too (though I don’t recall), it seems that in the pounding heart of America’s cultural apparatus (or at least one of them), it appears that Coming to Terms is not going to get any kind of show-place screening. Which, kinda is tantamount to being expunged from cultural existence – not that a screening at the places likely would have had much tangible impact anyway. The New York Film Festival has never shown one of my films. Nor any other of the festivals there. Though, lo those many years (decades) ago, in 1992 I think it was, I was accorded a nearly full (not the short films) retrospective at MoMA. My last efforts to get them to show a film of mine – over the last 10 years – begot a zilch. I guess whatever cultural stock I once held has shriveled to worthlessness.
At my advancing age it would be nice to wrack this diminished status up to the natural decline of one’s creative powers, or to the trivial shifts in “tastes” which tend to govern the cultural world, or perhaps my tendency to be outspoken in mouth and work. For instance during the so-called Iraq war, during which I made 3 narrative films addressing the matter (Homecoming
, Over Here
, and Parable
, among, I think, my better work), none were shown in the USA at festivals, despite trying, during the war. Perhaps owing to the fact that each had an explicit tail crawl citing the war as criminal, and calling for the impeachment of our President and his cohorts, and shipping them off for trial as war criminals which they were and are. The last of these films, Parable
, did get – after the war had been more or less abandoned – screenings at festivals in Boise and San Jose….
So yes, it would be vaguely comforting to figure I was washed up, the tides of fashion had swept me by, or that my sharp tongue had begot some not-so discreet cultural censorship. [I do, I don’t quite feel paranoidly, think this last matter holds some “truth” in it]. But alas, I think something larger and more insidious is responsible. It is that the long right-wing conservative effort which has been an American constant from our beginning, but recently – say around the Reagan regime – has taken a deep hold on our social/political and cultural life. Its seizure of the media, its corporatization of nearly all aspects of life, has to a great degree succeeded in strangling the cultural life-blood of the country, reducing it to pure circus and a well-greased and paid distraction from the serious machinations of our OWS-named “1%.” Infiltrating all levels of our culture, one can see its pervasiveness in the arts world and Hollywood, in the constant focus on money: how much something cost to make, how much money it makes. Reading about the arts
in our media is like checking the rise and fall of stock prices: Jeff Koons (alleged “artist”) sells a Gold Balloon Dog for $58,000,000 – and not a word is said about the travesty of presenting this kitsch toy up as “art” but many words are breathlessly spent on the money, who put it up, etc. And so it goes throughout the social culture, which speaks only of cost-effectiveness, “profit,” and all the other false lingo of our corporate masters. We collectively (ooppss, that
word) bow before Mammon. Young people study in order to get rich (or “famous”) as quickly as possible. And many do, handsomely rewarded for coming up with some digital dazzle, vaulting them into previously unimaginable wealth. Beneath this tumult of imponderable fiscal riches the seriousness of the world evaporates, and anything which would hint at that seriousness is squashed – be it OWS or art that fails to play the game. Miley Cyrus
or Lady GaGa fuck in your face, and millions in gold showers on them; someone says something to object and they are shunned and deleted from the social register.
So, as my particular sun sets, it is with a bit of irony that as I seem personally creatively re-energized, and making my best work (not only Coming to Terms and the recent documentary The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima, but new unfinished works – Gentry County Stories, and Blue Strait), that the relentless commercialization of everything – a very ideologically loaded reality – renders it superfluous in the real world. Essentially serious art – be it literary, theatrical, visual or musical – is simply regarded in our present society as, well, worthless. It doesn’t make multiple hundreds of millions at the box office, and so, yep, it is worthless. And it is treated that way. Even by the mandarins of culture. Jeff Koons, Miley, the imminent football draft, and the next hot new instant billionaire app are much more important. Follow the money.
Jonathan Rosenbaum, no longer writing for a regular outlet (had been with Chicago Reader some decades) sent along this for me to use after seeing the film in a private screening for a handful of friends in Chicago:
“Coming to Terms” brings together, for the first time, Jost’s exquisitely meditative sense of visual surface and texture with his tragic sense of how America has been losing its soul, making this for me in some ways his greatest feature. You might even say that geology and psychology meet on the same devastated terrain — the wasted world that we all currently inhabit.
With that and $3.50 I can get a cup of coffee at Starbucks.